THE STILL / by Spirited Magazine

Spirited VI [Money]

by Allison Vanouse


It is better to idealize commercial things than to commercialize aesthetic things. 

Grand-Carteret, Vieux Papiers

We work with the ingot and with the inscription.  This is the new numismatics, under the sign of an admonishing goddess. America is a First World country with a weak currency, broad-policy objectives and infinite fire-power. Art is the chief means by which the individual may understand his relationship to the commercial and industrial megalith, and through the compounded industrial and commercial activity of his ancestors this individual acquires the means for his degree at art school.  Radically, none of this is new. 

The dollar sign is an ancient sacred text. One of the most common Christograms in medieval Western Europe was IHS, In Hoc Signo, by this sign. Intertwined, the characters make $. Old tombstones bear the insignia, kids laugh about a resemblance they think that they invented, and then make love in the graveyard and invent that, too. The seals of the United States, which validate the currency inside your pocketbook, are ancient heraldic blazons. If you sharpie B and R on pyramid and eagle, you’re likely get “BONER”. There are places in the rural outskirts of China where cab drivers accept American dollars, and make change. These are just reminders.

But it is not necessary or desirable that a work of art present a treatise on political economy. Money is already a representational problem. The task of a banknote in 19th century America, to put on paper convincingly what represents gold, ultimate symbol of value, is convoluted version of the cosmic task to transmit and represent deep meaning, which might be the task of the artist.  We employ representation--money and genius-- to concentrate a wide range of thought in a narrow compass, to give all of it visible form under a simple image. Regarding the blazon, the mind speaks to the eye, extending its speculations beyond the bounds of ascertained verities and actual facts. Something here imparts a definite character to the visions of the imagination; they expand into something extant.  Jackson Pollock: “total control – denial of the accident – states of order – organic intensity – energy & motion made visible – memories arrested in space, human needs & motives –“. Money is a blood that forms the shape of public will (“BONER”, skyscrapers, screwing in the cemetery).

This interpollution looks like deadly sin. Fashion is lousy with it. So is art. Damien Hirst. Dennis Oppenheim: “Money is the root of all art.” We are uneasy with the way that money purchases ostentatious sculptures or abstract qualities and puts them into places they do not inhere (as the Chinese cab driver makes change). Beauty, bought by the unbeautiful. A platinum cast of a human skull and 8,601 diamonds. Ladies buy clothes. Charlie Kane buys art. Short men buy big machines. Donald Trump buys everything.  We go to art school, proceeding from the assumptions of the system that unsettles us.  But be assured: the aesthetic pollutes economics, too. Money is a measure of consensual symbolic logic and public faith. Imagine we all stopped giving a fuck. Frissons. Dissolution. 


Solution. Gold, though a noble metal, can be dissolved in crustal fluids. This results in exploitable deposits, upon which we base economies. It all hangs together like crazy. The new numismatics is ancient, a property of physical science. From distant mountains in South America we mine the value that builds cathedrals and casts our coins. Danae opens her legs and straddles earth. We bronze each replica of economic confidence. We buy futures.  We get depressed. We Krylon the shit out of the Caisse des Dépôts. Memories and motion are made visible. Illuminated manuscripts. Skyscrapers. We toil with the ingot, and with the inscription. But new needs demand new techniques. Culture is capital - total control – denial of the accident – new states of order – In Hoc Signo – ancient symbols, reissued and remarked. Here is our currency, bound.